This vibrant vegan walnut pesto is a quick way to add a bright, zesty boost to veggie pasta salads, garden salads, and grilled veggies! Dairy free pesto takes only a few ingredients and 5 minutes to make in the food processor. It's as fresh, nutty and delicious as traditional pesto, but without the dairy!
Pesto: Italian, from pestare 'to pound, crush, grind'. Back in the day, Italian cooks crushed garlic, pine nuts, basil, and salt in a heavy mortar and pestle. Fast forward to modern day where we pop everything into the food processor and a few pulses later, VOILA!
Why You'll Love This Easy Recipe
I think we can all agree that fresh dairy-free pesto made from scratch is much more delicious and less expensive than store-bought pesto! Here's a few more reasons to love it:
- Flavor booster: pesto's tangy, nutty, herby goodness is delicious on everything from pasta dishes, smashed potatoes, meatball sub sandwich and so much more.
- Healthy and nourishing: made with whole foods like leafy greens, herbs, walnuts (the most nutritious nut!), and nutritional yeast, pesto is packed with nutrients.
- Customizable: substitute the basil, walnuts, and lemon juice for ingredients you already have in the kitchen - like cashews or pine nuts, spinach or arugula, vinegar or grapefruit.
- Special diet friendly: gluten-free, dairy-free, plant based, vegetarian, vegan, keto friendly.
This vegan pesto recipe skips the dairy cheese, but sticks close to pesto's traditional bright, zesty, nutty flavors and texture.
Here's a quick look at the ingredients you'll need: fresh basil, walnuts, extra virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice, fresh garlic, salt, pepper, and dairy-free parmesan cheese.
Variations & Substitution Ideas
There's no hard and fast rules with a homemade pesto - it's made to taste. This recipe is very forgiving, customizable, and turns out delicious every time. Here's a few easy swaps you can make:
- Play with the greens: don't have fresh basil or find it too strong? No problem - use a combination of greens. Add baby spinach, arugula, Italian flat parsley or even some mint in with basil for a delicious flavor twist.
- Mix and match the nuts: walnuts are a healthy choice; but pine nuts, cashews, almonds or pistachios make a delicious pesto as well.
- Vegan cheese: skip the cheese, use your favorite Brand of vegan parmesan or whip up a batch of dairy-free parmesan cheese made with nutritional yeast.
- Nut Free Pesto?: try subbing pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds.
How to Make 5 Minute Vegan Pesto
Like most vegan sauces, a drizzle of pesto sauce has the ability to transform a simple vegan dinner by infusing it with another layer of flavor. Here's the steps for making homemade pesto (smooth or chunky):
- Place all the ingredients (except the olive oil) in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to chop the ingredients. Scrape down the sides if needed.
- With the food processor running, drizzle the oil through the tube and process until smooth or leave some chunky texture as desired (see photos).
- Give a stir and taste the pesto. Adjust the seasonings as required.
How to Store
When basil is in season, make a double or triple batch because pesto freezes beautifully! Here's how:
Storage: make ahead and store in the fridge in a jar or airtight container for several days. To extend the fridge time, pour a thin layer of olive oil over the top of the basil which helps retain the bright green color. It can easily be drained away before using.
Freeze: spoon leftover pesto into ice cube trays and freeze. Once frozen solid, transfer to a freezer friendly bag (with a label) for several months.
Thaw: to thaw your pesto, bring the cubes to room temperature or throw frozen into pasta sauce, stir fry or vegan chili.
Yes, a traditional pesto is made with parmesan cheese. But it's an easy swap for dairy free parmesan cheese, a sprinkle of nutritional yeast or skip the cheese altogether.
Yes, pesto is naturally gluten free! If you are making vegan pesto pasta, just be sure to choose your favorite gluten-free pasta brand.
Yes, use any nuts to make this vegan pesto. Try walnuts (very healthy), cashews, pine nuts, almonds or pistachios; for a nut free pesto try pumpkins seeds or sunflower seeds.
How to Serve
Of course pesto and pasta are a foodie super couple (hot or cold), but pesto is very versatile and shines in plenty of other situations! Here's a few favorite uses for both smooth and chunky pesto versions:
- As a salad dressing: basil walnut pesto makes a perfect dressing for veggie pesto pasta salad, orzo salad or tomato caprese salad. Thin it out with a few tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar to create a tasty pesto vinaigrette for a garden salad or avocado tomato salad.
- As a condiment: pesto is a wonderful, low carb, dairy-free, saucy condiment slathered on a vegan meatball sub, veggie burgers, California sandwich or avocado toast.
- As a dip or drizzle on a side dish: a dollop of pesto transforms grilled or roasted veggies, chicken, or fish (vegan). Add a drizzle of this fresh herby sauce over pizza, tacos or grain bowls for a boost of zesty flavor.
- Swirl it in soup like this Veggie Bean Soup.
More Delicious Vegan Sauces
If you love dairy-free pesto, check out my vegan sauce page or try one of these current favorite sauces/salad dressings next:
- Sweet and Spicy Tahini Sauce
- Cashew Cream Sauce (8 variations)
- Maple Dijon Vinaigrette
- Dairy Free Tzatziki
- Vegan Honey Mustard Dressing
Vegan Walnut Pesto Recipe (5 minutes!)
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- food processor
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves
- 1 cup arugula, Italian parsley or baby spinach
- 1-2 cloves garlic
- ¼ cup walnuts (pine nuts, cashews or almonds)
- 2+ tablespoons vegan parmesan cheese* (more to taste)
- 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
- kosher salt and black pepper (to taste)
- 3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Make homemade vegan parmesan cheese or use your favorite store-bought vegan parmesan brand.
- Add all the ingredients except the olive oil to food processor and blitz until chopped.
- With the motor running, drizzle the oil through the spout of the food processor until it's a smooth (or chunky) loose sauce. Stop and scrape down the sides as necessary.
- Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.
- Store in an airtight jar in the fridge for several days or freeze.
This recipe is from simplyceecee.co food blog. All images and content are copyright protected. Please do not use my images or republish this recipe without prior permission. Thank you.
Originally posted September 2019.